If you ask, most employees will tell you they feel overworked and underappreciated. Consequently, one of the easiest ways to improve motivation and job satisfaction is to make sure the people who work for (and with) you are given frequent acknowledgment.

Bosses are often like many parents: They only notice when something goes wrong. “;Why should I praise this employee when she’s just doing her job? That’s what she’s being paid to do!” a boss may say.

While this attitude may be technically correct, people don’t thrive in situations where they feel their contribution isn’t noticed. And would you really prefer an employee who simply “;does her job,” or would you prefer one who is energized to be the best employee she can be?

The Gallup organization has found that employees who are acknowledged frequently and feel cared about by their managers not only are happier, but are more productive. Other studies have reported that people will be initially drawn to a particular job because of the salary associated with it; however, people stay in or leave a job primarily because of how they feel they are treated at work.

Rewards are a powerful form of acknowledgment — and a great way to make people feel appreciated. So how can you develop a way to reward your employees that will bring the maximum motivation benefits you seek?

If you’re an employer or manager, you may be thinking “;Well, we don’t have a lot of extra money lying around; we can’t give out airline tickets or fancy trips or cruises or huge bonuses. Even if we want to reward our employees, how can we afford it?”

In fact, many “;rewards” don’t cost anything. For example, consider calling an employee at home just to thank her for a job well done (without discussing any other work issue); jotting a note of thanks on a paycheck; copying staff on an nice e-mail acknowledgement; posting letters of praise from clients on a wall or hallway for everyone to see; giving a half day off from work; announcing someone’s success over the intercom.

Remember that not everyone is motivated by the same thing. Take a look at this list of the kinds of items employees find most rewarding:

Money (anyone surprised by this one?)
Recognition (flowers, lunch with the boss, a public announcement, office with a view, placing a bell in a common area and permitting staff to ring it to announce individual/team wins; a handwritten thank-you note, certificates of appreciation; write-ups in newspaper or trade journals).
Time off (employees love this, especially when it is given unexpectedly).
A piece of the action (a percentage of profits makes for a wonderful incentive).
Favorite work (a pick among several upcoming projects, work with a “;preferred”client).
Advancement.
Freedom.
Gift certificates for merchandise/ apparel/food (or allow an employee to pick out something in a specified price range from a catalogue).
Experiences (sports events, concerts, dinner, spa services, car detailing, theater, maid service for a day, lunch brought in for busy employees, a masseuse to give chair massages, family photo shoot with photographer).
Personal growth and development (classes pertaining to work, personal classes such as marriage retreats, cooking classes, home improvement).
Doesn’t it make sense to ask people how they want to be rewarded and to give them some choices rather than deciding to give them all company mugs or pens? Many employers have begun to use bank credit card “;gift cards” so employees can select whatever they want wherever they want.

Some employers give out a list of possible rewards to employees and ask them to pick the three that they find most appealing. Then when the appropriate time arrives, they are able to select a reward that is sure to please.

And don’t forget the possibility of including the employee’s family members in the reward. A call to thank a spouse for “;hanging in there” during a difficult time — or a gift the entire family can enjoy — to show appreciation for the help or sacrifices can be greatly appreciated.

When the topic of rewarding employees comes up, there are always some who say, “;Well, maybe other people need that — but I certainly don’t.” It’s always fun to see the smiles on their faces when they receive a well-deserved reward!

Judi Craig, Ph.D., MCC, is an executive coach in San Antonio and president of COACH SQUARED, Inc. (www.coachsquared.com) and THE PRACTICE ADVISOR, LLC. (www.thepracticeadvisor.com).

Author: Judi Craig